As we cruised through the winding roads that lead from Tijuana to the port city of Ensenada, teetering on cliffs that dropped dramatically to the open sea below, my stomach began to rumble. Upon hitting the border my taco fantasies became more vivid than ever and I was ready to make them a reality. Commence feasting: Mexican style.
The first stop was my brother’s roadside taqueria of choice, El Paisa, where large chunks of meat were roasting on spits and a symphony of salsas and pickled vegetables danced before our eyes. Lunch was prepared by a masterful taquero who pumped out an impressive nine in under a minute; a display of auto-drive at its finest.
They were exceptional. Smoky carne asada perfectly balanced by creamy guacamole, garnished with pickled chiles and every available salsa blended together in a fiesta of flavors that set the precedent for future feasts. The advice Nick had been given before departure, “Just don’t eat the street meat” was ignored entirely and life was all the better for it.
The next day we set out on a mission to eat as much street as possible. Upon entering the city, we landed in the heart of the gringo district where cruise-ship passengers wandered the streets in search of tacky sombreros and Viagra prescriptions. Pushing through the swarm of vendors promising us the best “junk” in town, the signs switched from dollars to pesos and we found ourselves in the true Ensenada of friendly locals, festive music and eats galore.
Wafting aromas of grilled meat drew us to the first stand we could find where we hungrily ordered a taco and quesadilla. The dish that arrived, however, was far better than anything we could have imagined; the quesotaco. Two grilled corn tortillas oozing with melted cheese folded around roasted pork to create the ultimate fusion of Mexican comfort foods. Que rico.
Next we headed to “La Guerrerense,” a ceviche stand that had won awards at L.A.’s street food festival two years running and had accrued an international following. We ordered one of each of the winners, sea snail and urchin ceviches piled high onto a crispy tostada topped with avocado and dressed with hot sauce. Fresh, slightly chewy and nothing like the uni we have back in Maine, we crossed it off our lists and foraged on.
Nothing marries more perfectly with street meat than cerveza, so after putting away a liter in a parking lot, we set out in search of Ensenada’s infamous fish tacos. We went to two stands – one recommended by an American blogger and one by Forrest’s Mexican wife Rubi – it’s easy to guess which won. The fish was heavily battered and fried to perfection, then piled high with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce and an array of fresh salsas. We annihilated ours, did a lap and came back for seconds. The lady that served us laughed knowingly. If there is one thing that can be said about the people of Ensenada, they know good street food and they also know that theirs is worth crossing the border for.